Nothing forgotten of the unhappy art of Mars

From The Canterbury Tales – The Knight’s Tale (lines 1967-2038), the description of the temple of Mars in the lists (arena) of Theseus’ tournament. I’m giving Neville Coghill’s modern rendering first followed by an interlineal text+translation borrowed from Harvard’s Chaucer page (online here). That seemed the best compromise against the glosses required if including the full original text by itself.

An interesting aside – Chaucer had served as clerk of the king’s works and overseen the construction of scaffolding and lists for Richard II’s 1390 tournament in Smithfield.

Why should I not go on to tell you all
The portraiture depicted on the wall
Within the Temple of Mighty Mars the red?
The walls were painted round and overhead
Like the recesses of that grisly place
Known as the Temple of Great Mars in Thrace,
That frosty region under chilling stars
Where stands the sovereign mansion of King Mars.
First on the walls a forest with no plan
Inhabited by neither beast nor man
Was painted – tree-trunks, knotted, gnarled and old,
Jagged and barren, hideous to behold,
Through which there ran a rumble and a soughing
As though a storm should break the branches bowing
Before it. Downwards from a hill there went
A slope; the Temple of Armipotent
Mars was erected there in steel, and burnished.
The Gateway, narrow and forbidding, furnished
A ghastly sight, and such a rushing quake
Raged from within, the portals seemed to shake.
In at the doors a northern glimmer shone
Onto the walls, for windows there were none;
One scarce discerned a light, it was so scant.
The doors were of eternal adamant,
And vertically clenched, and clenched across
For greater strength with many an iron boss,
And every pillar to support the shrine
Weighed a full ton of iron bright and fine.
And there I saw the dark imaginings
Of felony, the stratagems of kings,
And cruel wrath that glowed an ember-red,
The pick-purse and the image of pale Dread,
The smiler with the knife beneath his cloak,
The out-houses that burnt with blackened smoke;
Treason was there, a murder on a bed,
And open war, with wounds that gaped and bled;
Dispute, with bloody knife and snarling threat;
A screaming made the place more dreadful yet.
The slayer of himself, I saw him there
With all his heart’s blood matted in his hair;
The driven nail that made the forehead crack,
Cold Death, with gaping mouth, upon its back.
And in the middle of the shrine Mischance
Stood comfortless with sorry countenance.
There I saw madness cackling his distress,
Armed insurrection, outcry, fierce excess,
The carrion in the undergrowth, slit-throated,
And thousands violently slain. I noted
The raping tyrant with his prey o’ertaken,
The levelled city, gutted and forsaken,
The ships on fire dancingly entangled,
The luckless hunter that wild bears had strangled,
The sow, munching the baby in the cradle,
The scalded cook, in spite of his long ladle –
Nothing forgotten of the unhappy art
Of Mars: the carter crushed beneath his cart,
Flung to the earth and pinned beneath the wheel;
Those also on whom Mars has set his seal,
The barber and the butcher and the smith
Who forges things a man may murder with.
And high above, depicted in a tower,
Sat Conquest, robed in majesty and power,
Under a sword that swung above his head,
Sharp-edged and hanging by a subtle thread.
And Caesar’s slaughter stood in effigy
And that of Nero and Mark Antony;
Though to be sure they were as yet unborn,
Their deaths were there prefigured to adorn
This Temple with the menaces of Mars,
As is depicted also in the stars
Who shall be murdered, who shall die for love;


1967        Why sholde I noght as wel eek telle yow al
                   Why should I not as well also tell you all
1968        The portreiture that was upon the wal
                   The portraiture that was upon the wall
1969        Withinne the temple of myghty Mars the rede?
                   Within the temple of mighty Mars the red?
1970        Al peynted was the wal, in lengthe and brede,
                   All painted was the wall, in length and breadth,
1971        Lyk to the estres of the grisly place
                   Like to the interior of the grisly place
1972        That highte the grete temple of Mars in Trace,
                   That is called the Great Temple of Mars in Thrace,
1973        In thilke colde, frosty regioun
                   In that same cold, frosty region
1974        Ther as Mars hath his sovereyn mansioun.
                   Where Mars has his most excellent mansion.
1975        First on the wal was peynted a forest,
                   First a forest was painted on the wall,
1976        In which ther dwelleth neither man ne best,
                   In which there dwells neither man nor beast,
1977        With knotty, knarry, bareyne trees olde,
                   With knotty, gnarled, barren old trees,
1978        Of stubbes sharpe and hidouse to biholde,
                  Of stumps sharp and hideous to behold,
1979        In which ther ran a rumbel in a swough,
                  Through which there ran a rumbling in a moaning of wind,
1980        As though a storm sholde bresten every bough.
                 As though a storm should burst every bough.
1981        And dounward from an hille, under a bente,
                 And downward from a hill, close to a grassy slope,
1982        Ther stood the temple of Mars armypotente,
                 There stood the temple of Mars, powerful in arms,
1983        Wroght al of burned steel, of which the entree
                 Wrought all of burnished steel, of which the entry
1984        Was long and streit, and gastly for to se.
                   Was long and narrow, and frightening to look upon.
1985        And therout came a rage and swich a veze
                   And out of there came a rush of wind and such a blast
1986        That it made al the gate for to rese.
                   That it made all the gate to shake.
1987        The northren lyght in at the dores shoon,
                   The northern light shone in at the doors,
1988        For wyndowe on the wal ne was ther noon,
                   For there was no window on the wall,
1989        Thurgh which men myghten any light discerne.
                   Through which men might discern any light.
1990        The dore was al of adamant eterne,
                   The door was all of eternal adamant (hardest of stones),
1991        Yclenched overthwart and endelong
                   Bound crosswise and lengthwise
1992        With iren tough; and for to make it strong,
                   With tough iron; and to make it strong,
1993        Every pyler, the temple to sustene,
                   Every pillar, to support the temple,
1994        Was tonne-greet, of iren bright and shene.
                   Was big as a large barrel, (made) of iron bright and shining.
1995        Ther saugh I first the derke ymaginyng
                   There I saw first the malicious plotting
1996        Of Felonye, and al the compassyng;
                   Of Felony, and all the scheming;
1997        The crueel Ire, reed as any gleede;
                   The cruel Anger, red as any glowing coal;
1998        The pykepurs, and eek the pale Drede;
                   The pick-purse, and also the pale Fear;
1999        The smylere with the knyf under the cloke;
                   The smiler with the knife under the cloak;
2000        The shepne brennynge with the blake smoke;
                   The stable burning with the black smoke;
2001        The tresoun of the mordrynge in the bedde;
                   The treason of the murdering in the bed;
2002        The open werre, with woundes al bibledde;
                   The open war, all covered with blood from wounds:
2003        Contek, with blody knyf and sharp manace.
                   Strife, with bloody knife and sharp menacing.
2004        Al ful of chirkyng was that sory place.
                   All full of creaking was that sorry place.
2005        The sleere of hymself yet saugh I ther —
                   There yet I saw slayer of himself there —
2006        His herte-blood hath bathed al his heer —
                   His heart-blood has bathed all his hair —
2007        The nayl ydryven in the shode anyght;
                   The nail driven in the top of the head at night;
2008        The colde deeth, with mouth gapyng upright.
                   The cold death, with mouth gaping upwards.
2009        Amyddes of the temple sat Meschaunce,
                   Amidst the temple sat Misfortune,
2010        With disconfort and sory contenaunce.
                   With grief and sorry countenance.
2011        Yet saugh I Woodnesse, laughynge in his rage,
                   Yet I saw Madness, laughing in his rage,
2012        Armed Compleint, Outhees, and fiers Outrage;
                   Armed Discontent, Alarm, and fierce Violence;
2013        The careyne in the busk, with throte ycorve;
                   The corpse in the woods, with (its) throat cut;
2014        A thousand slayn, and nat of qualm ystorve;
                   A thousand slain, and not killed by the plague;
2015        The tiraunt, with the pray by force yraft;
                   The tyrant, with his prey taken by force;
2016        The toun destroyed, ther was no thyng laft.
                   The town destroyed, there was nothing left.
2017        Yet saugh I brent the shippes hoppesteres;
                   Yet I saw burned the ships dancing (on the waves);
2018        The hunte strangled with the wilde beres;
                   The hunter killed by the wild bears;
2019        The sowe freten the child right in the cradel;
                   The sow devouring the child right in the cradle;
2020        The cook yscalded, for al his longe ladel.
                   The cook scalded, despite his long-handled spoon.
2021        Noght was foryeten by the infortune of Marte.
                   Nothing concerning the evil influence of Mars was forgotten.
2022        The cartere overryden with his carte —
                   The wagon driver run over by his wagon —
2023        Under the wheel ful lowe he lay adoun.
                   He lay down full low under the wheel.
2024        Ther were also, of Martes divisioun,
                   There were also, of those influenced by Mars,
2025        The barbour, and the bocher, and the smyth,
                   The barber, and the butcher, and the smith,
2026        That forgeth sharpe swerdes on his styth.
                   Who forges sharp swords on his anvil.
2027        And al above, depeynted in a tour,
                   And all above, painted in a tower,
2028        Saugh I Conquest, sittynge in greet honour,
                   I saw conquest, sitting in great honor,
2029        With the sharpe swerd over his heed
                   With the sharp sword over his head
2030        Hangynge by a soutil twynes threed.
                   Hanging by a thin thread of twine.
2031        Depeynted was the slaughtre of Julius,
                   Depicted was the slaughter of Julius,
2032        Of grete Nero, and of Antonius;
                   Of great Nero, and of Antonius;
2033        Al be that thilke tyme they were unborn,
                   Although at that same time they were unborn,
2034        Yet was hir deth depeynted ther-biforn
                   Yet was their death depicted before then
2035        By manasynge of Mars, right by figure;
                   By menacing of Mars, according to the horoscope;
2036        So was it shewed in that portreiture,
                   So was it shown in that portraiture,
2037        As is depeynted in the sterres above
                   As is depicted in the stars above
2038        Who shal be slayn or elles deed for love.
                   Who shall be slain or else dead for love.

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